July 12, 2007 -- It's about as uncomplicated as it gets — rip off the package, screw the fitting onto a spigot and your new garden hose is good to go.
At least that's what Louise Broyles thought.
"There was no reason to think it wouldn't be safe," Broyles said. "It's a garden hose so why wouldn't it be safe?"
But on the packaging of the garden hose was a tiny warning that said, "Do not drink out of this product," and, "This product contains chemicals known to the state of California to cause cancer, birth defects and/or reproductive harm."
It turns out some garden hoses may contain dangerous levels of lead.
Testing the Safety of Hoses
In a test, reporters from ABC's Phoenix affiliate KNXV-TV bought 10 garden hoses randomly at places like Home Depot, Wal-Mart, Target and Ace Hardware.
They filled sections of the hoses with clean water, sealed the ends and put them outside for about a day. Then they delivered that water to a lab.
Five of the 10 hoses came back with levels of lead higher than what the Environmental Protection Agency allows for drinking water: 15 parts per billion. Four of those came back with extremely high lead levels.
"Hoses tend to be made of PVC, which is a dirty plastic, and lead is used as a stabilizer in that plastic," said Charlie Pizarro, associate director at the Center for Environmental Health.
Group Wants National Standards for Hoses
In 2004, the CEH sued three of the country's leading hose makers for having high levels of lead in their products.
"Lead is a potent neurotoxin. There is no amount of lead that's safe for a child," Pizarro said. "They create a public health risk to children. They put children at risk for brain damage, developmental disabilities and a host of other very serious problems."
The CEH won a settlement, and the manufacturers agreed to reformulate and significantly reduce lead levels by July 31 of this year.
Pizarro said that agreement was important because warning labels weren't enough.
"There's a need for a strong national standard on lead in all products, but particularly products that are going to be used by small children," he said.
Testing Shows High Lead Levels
Of the four hoses with the extremely high lead levels, the lab found one with lead levels of 290 parts per billion, which is almost 20 times higher than what the EPA allows for drinking water.
"I don't know who I hold more responsible — the companies that are actually manufacturing the products or the stores that I think that I trust that are continuing to carry the products," Broyles said.
ABC News contacted the two companies that make the four hoses that tested high in the study.
Colorite-Tekni-Plex, the maker of Colorite Waterworks Products, did not respond to numerous requests for comment.
Teknor Apex, the maker of the Neverkink hose that was tested, told ABC News it was in compliance with the court settlement.
Pizarro said based on the ABC News investigation, the CEH is ready to take action.
"This is appalling," he said. "Shame on you. You cannot be putting lead in products that children are going to be coming in contact with."
What Can You Do?
Always check the label on your garden hose. Sometimes it's hard to find, but it's there. Almost all the hoses that were tested had that "do not drink" warning, but it's small and you have to look for it.
Flush the hose out before you use it.
If you can find camper or marine or RV hoses, they are generally safe for drinking. They're made from medical-grade vinyl. Teknor Apex makes Neverkink and Aquaflex R.V. hoses safe for drinking.
If your hose has brass fittings, they can also leach lead into the water.
Experts say it's probably safe to water your vegetables with water from a garden hose, but you and your pets should avoid drinking from it. Also, don't fill a kiddie pool with it.